They may languish at the foot of the First Division, but Oldham rose to the challenge of restoring a little pride to Greater Manchester football at St James' Park last night. Indeed, where Alex Ferguson's double-winners were smacked by Newcastle's bunch of fives on Sunday, Graeme Sharp's side emerged with a victory of sorts. They were afforded a standing ovation after denying the Premiership leaders a goal from open play.
Ladbrokes had offered only 12-1 against Newcastle matching their record League Cup win, 6-0 against Doncaster 23 years ago, which featured Frank Clark's only goal in 457 appearances for the club. The only difference between the sides, however, was a penalty converted midway through the first half by Peter Beardsley, whose first visit to St James' happened to be the night Clark broke his duck.
The last man in the firing line for Oldham was Newcastle's goalkeeper the last time they beat Manchester United in a league match, nine years ago, and Gary Kelly confessed that a happy return was far from his mind as he watched Sunday's televised game. "I thought if they could score five against the champions, they could get 10 against us."
Oldham's cause was not helped by the absence of five players through injury, plus the suspended Ian Ormondroyd and Shaun Garnett, but at least Kevin Keegan evened the sides by resting five of his first-choice players, among them Alan Shearer.
It was a calculated risk on the part of the Newcastle manager, given his decision to withdraw his reserve team from the Pontins League. Shaka Hislop was called up for his first game since the opening day and the early shakes by which he was afflicted gave Oldham encouragement.
The Trinidadian flapped at a David Beresford free-kick, partially redeemed himself by punching over a Toddy Orlygsson header, but then lost possession while attempting to dribble past Stuart Barlow.
In the circumstances, Newcastle had every right to be grateful for the start they were given. Scott McNiven used a hand to block a Lee Clark chip and Beardsley beat Kelly from the penalty spot. Hislop saved smartly from Beresford and Nicky Banger before the break and, although Kelly denied David Ginola and Paul Kitson with his feet in the second half, Oldham departed with their heads held high. As Keegan told Sharp as they headed down the tunnel together: "If you keep playing like that, you'll get away from the bottom of the First Division."
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Beardsley, Clark, Batty, Ginola; Asprilla (Kitson, 74), Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Watson, Srnicek (gk).
Oldham Athletic (4-4-2): Kelly; Halle, Fleming, Redmond, Serrant; S McNiven (Hughes, 87), Rickers, Orlygsson, Beresford; Barlow, Banger. Substitutes not used: D McNiven, Hallworth (gk).
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).Reuse content